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On Good Friday in #NJ, Marchers Draw Attention to Suffering Due to Immigration Detention

April 23, 2011

Text by Kathy O’Leary

Lenten Campaign to Recognize Humanity of Immigrants Concludes with Way of the Cross Afternoon of Prayer and Reflection to “Lift the Cross” of an Unjust System

Newark, NJ—As many as 100 people of faith and immigrant rights advocates from organizations across the state of New Jersey including Casa Esperanza, IRATE & First Friends, the Passaic County Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Pax Christi NJ, St. Stephan’s Grace Community Lutheran Church and Wind of the Spirit, are gathered in Newark in front of the Hall of Records on the Christian feast day of Good Friday April, 22nd for a press conference before walking through Newark and ending at St. Lucy’s Church. Participants will be drawing attention to the suffering that is inflicted on immigrants their families, and the communities in which they live by the U.S.’s current immigration and detention policies which organizers say has been shaped by an “enforcement first” attitude through a contemporary depiction of the Stations of the Cross which re-enacts the crucifixion of Jesus.

The afternoon of prayer and reflection, which was in both English and Spanish, is intended to highlight the harsh realities for today’s immigrants. The program underscored the human value of immigrants who the event’s organizers say are needlessly suffering under a system that is badly in need of some compassion. “The death and resurrection of Jesus is not something in the past. Our faith calls us to recognize the suffering of Jesus in the lives and in the faces of people who are suffering everyday in our own communities. A great deal of the suffering of immigrants comes from the threat of detention and deportation.” said Diana Mejia of Wind of the Spirit.

Organizers hope the event will also help re-direct the focus on local immigration issues. “As people of faith who believe in the Gospel’s call to radical hospitality we must look to our local and state government in our advocacy for immigrants. It is not enough that we oppose the injustice created by our federal immigration policy, we are also called to mitigate the suffering of local residents and families while we work and pray for systemic change,” said Kathy O’Leary, coordinator for the NJ region of Pax Christi.

Organizers are particularly concerned about the plans to build a new 2,700 bed immigration detention facility next to the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark as well as inhumane immigration enforcement actions and their impact on the community. They are concerned that the new facility will be used to incarcerate long time county residents with significant ties to the community and split apart local Essex county families. They cite statistics from the 2010 Census that show over 23% of Essex County’s population is foreign born. Of this population, 71% have been in this country since before 2000 and 54% are not yet US Citizens.

“Today’s immigrants are both the Good Samaritan who lends a hand in our communities and the people of Matthew 25 in the Gospel who hunger, thirst and are imprisoned in immigration detention right here in Newark. These are the people that we are called to comfort,” said Josefa Lopez co-fonder of Romero de América the Spanish language Pax Christi Chapter from St. Lucy’s in Newark and a volunteer with IRATE & First Friends which manages visitation services to immigrants in detention.

“On Good Friday we solemnly recognize the suffering of Jesus, but we also look forward to the joy of the resurrection. This joy springs from the hope that we will be able to recognize Jesus living among us and by lifting the cross that has been placed upon his people we will achieve our own salvation.” said Rev. Joyce Phipps, founder of Casa Esperanza and a practicing immigration attorney.

The Way of the Cross is the concluding event of a statewide Lenten Campaign to “Recognize the Human Value of Immigrants” called “Lament, Compassion, Solidarity & Conversion”. As a coordinated part of the event, people of all faith traditions gathered at their local house of worship or elsewhere in their home community throughout the six weeks of Lent to Lament our country’s current immigration policy, show Compassion for the suffering of immigrants, act in Solidarity with immigrants and pray for a Conversion of hearts so that comprehensive, humane immigration reform can be enacted. The campaign began with the second annual pilgrimage from Ellis Island in Liberty State Park in Jersey City to the Elizabeth Detention Center on March 9, 2011 (Ash Wednesday).

The Lenten Campaign to recognize the human value of immigrants is the continuation of a series of actions that began in September 15, 2009 with the “We Are One Human Family” statewide vigils which took place at 11 locations in ten communities across New Jersey, and the “Let My People Go” vigils protesting immigration detention and ICE/police cooperation in July of 2010.

The Immigrants Way of the Cross is co-sponsored by: by “Romero de América” (1st Spanish language group of Pax Christi in NJ, Pax Christi NJ, Wind of the Spirit, Casa Esperanza, IRATE & First Friends, St. Stephan’s Grace Community Lutheran Church; The Shrine of St. Joseph, The Passaic County Coalition for Immigrant Rights and Jornaleros Unidos de Passaic

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